How Online Learning Is Different From Classroom Book

Ben Shapiro, professor of the disciplines of American Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago, at the Social Conservative Summit in Washington, DC. Shapiro gave a speech at the conference about why conservative Christians should engage with online learning.

How Online Learning Is Different From Classroom Book

Alex Schmitz is a fourth-year graduate student in English at Columbia University and an independent researcher for the nonprofit Teach Plus.

I’ve studied the philosophy and economics of learning for the past few years. In 2013, my thesis focused on academia’s persistent “cultural divide” between theoretical and experiential learning, particularly the kinds of creative, collaborative, and problem-solving strategies believed to improve students’ overall education.

My dissertation required me to review and summarize studies of experiential learning and a survey that asked students to describe how they studied. I also analyzed how academics tended to conceptualize and explain this phenomenon, which happens to fall squarely within the general area of my academic focus.


I immediately identified and chose empirically supported implications in different fields of study. One of my most commonly cited cases was Amy Chua’s Tiger Mom books: “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” and “Little Red Wagon.” Chua’s books capture a particular model of “opposing the stereotypical feminine way of thinking and behaving,” according to the linguistics professor Neil Postman.

I would further extend Chua’s argument to suggest that many of the behaviors she and others attribute to female students’ professional success were actually quite common behaviors used in the male-dominated academic world, including bolder individualism, a drive to connect, and assert dominance.

Despite its drawbacks, Chua’s work ignited much academic literature examining the diversity of attitudes toward women in academia. Although many academics are staunchly opposed to Chua’s opinions, my analysis revealed that traditional models of seeing “feminine” and “masculine” characteristics in students’ engagement in academic pursuits are both quite common among faculty members.

Another study I used as a starting point showed that over 80 percent of the undergraduate students surveyed perceived themselves as competitive. In my dissertation, I explored this finding empirically and found the absence of stereotyped gender identity narratives present in the published work on experiential learning.

The results of this study led me to study faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduate students who were teachers. These included the veteran teacher of Columbia’s Upper Manhattan Math and Science Community College, one of the elite colleges in the U.S., among many other top-ranked schools across the country.

I made it my goal to document the similarities and differences between female and male teachers in spite of their gender.

Through informal interviews, research reviews, and books on the subject, I collected more than 300 hours of interviewing and over 40 hours of record research. Working closely with a foundation supporting student engagement, I attempted to mirror the formative practices of graduate school mentors and teachers on their university campuses.

I was quite pleased that most of the existing work on female teachers’ interactivity with students was largely substantiated by my interviews. For example, the most influential scholarly literature talks about female teachers embracing and showing interest in interacting with students. I also cited methodological approaches of how women in institutions work as role models to inspire other women to consider the future as an opportunity to grow and make a difference.

But just as interesting, to me, was the lack of completeness and originality in the literature.

My research corroborated theories around female-female teachers interacting with students but did not describe why this interaction positively impacted students. I learned that teachers’ academic habits alone do not decrease female teachers’ dissatisfaction with their jobs or the disparities between their male and female students’ academics.

An exception are female teachers who care about their students and want to make a significant impact.

Similarly, I would suggest that the growing canon of female role models does not necessarily translate into gender equality.

Though women’s engagement in an area is considered powerful, universities often prioritize additional research about male teachers. This is because male teachers are a desired novelty, a figure for women to emulate, although many male teachers are not necessarily competent.

The continued importance of male teachers is important because it demonstrates an organization’s embrace of different educational viewpoints. Research indicates that female educators are perceived as being less effective than male educators. Also, females struggle to attain leadership positions.

I hope that my research helps universities and policymakers to think about possibilities and decision-making around a range of topics. I also hope that further research on gender roles within academia can guide policymakers’ creative ways of improving the student experience.

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